It’s happened to all of us. You know what we’re talking about; the absolute horror it is to be a huge fan of a book series only to hear that it’s getting a movie adaptation. You know it’s going to be bad; you just know it. Eventually, the day comes, and you’re at the theater hoping that maybe they listened to the fans and the movie is accurate to the source material, but it never is.
It’s always the same old story— the director completely misses the point of the book, or the book itself just doesn’t make for a good visual story. But why, oh why, are book-to-movie adaptations almost always so bad?
Why Book-to-Movie Adaptations Often Fail
When you read a book, you have your own image in your head of what the world and each character look like. While everyone is reading the same descriptions, we all draw our own portraits in our heads. Fans might not appreciate the set design, or casting decisions directors make if it clashes with their own visions. It gets even harder for fans to appreciate the adaptation when directors skip over minor plot details, or major ones, to fit the 2-hour window they have for a film.
Regardless, directors are tasked with condensing a book that takes ten hours to read into a 2-hour movie that is still entertaining and understandable for those that haven’t read the book. Readers go in as experts, analyzing every little detail of the film, and if it isn’t a 1:1 adaptation or at least something close, it’s not going to pass their test.
Even then, the movies are also bad for people that haven’t read the books. That’s because the plot may seem nonsensical after having been trimmed down to two hours with no time to create a connection with the characters. Readers spend hours building up these characters in their heads, which makes the final battles or tragic deaths that much more impactful. When it’s on screen, you’ve only known this person for fifteen minutes before their time is up.
All-in-all, there are a variety of reasons why a book-to-movie adaptation fails. Sometimes the source material is hard to adapt to film, or the director misses the best parts of why the books are beloved.
Luckily, there are some good adaptations out there, like The Lord of the Rings, Dune (2021), The Godfather, and The Color Purple. Films like these often give fans hope when they hear their favorite novel is hitting the big screen. Unfortunately, the following 10 movie adaptations sit in the back of our minds, reminding us why we shouldn’t be too hopeful.
As a fan of the series as a child, this one hits a little too close to home. Eragon is the first book in The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini and was a bestseller when it was released back in 2003. The film that was made in 2006 based on the book? Not so much. While it wasn’t exactly a box-office bomb, it did essentially put a nail in the coffin for any future Eragon sequel films
Just about everything that could be criticized about this adaptation. Fans were outraged at just how far from the source material the film strayed. How they would release a sequel afterward that somehow followed the second book is a mystery to just about everyone. Fans, however, are in luck; Eragon is being made into a TV series on Disney+. Will they learn from the mistakes made in 2006? One can only hope.
The Hobbit Trilogy (2012, 2013, 2014)
The Lord of the Rings is a masterpiece that is beloved by fans of Tolkien around the world. It exemplifies good storytelling, has quality male role models, and the effects have stood the test of time and look great decades later. The Hobbit, on the other hand, is a different story. While the trilogy itself made almost $3 billion at the box office, fans were very critical of certain choices the showrunners made.
The most glaring choice was to turn a 300-page book into a three-part movie. For reference, The Lord of The Rings was also a film trilogy but had over a thousand pages of story to get through. Fans were upset with the addition of Legolas and Tauriel, both of whom made no appearance in the books. Tauriel isn’t even an original character, which only angered fans of the books more at the adaptation. Needless to say, they had to add and stretch some things to turn The Hobbit into a three-parter.
Seventh Son (2014)
A loose adaptation (keyword “loose”) of the novel The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney, Seventh Son was a box office bomb that could be seen from miles away. The trailer alone showed fans that perhaps the only thing similar between the books and the film was the character names.
For a series with the potential to be 10+ movies long, the decision to cut a completely new story loosely based on a hit series is almost laughable. The fact that a major antagonist that almost kills Tom in the first book is turned into their friend and assistant is a wild choice in and of itself. Also, the witch turns into a dragon. There are no fire-breathing dragons in any of the 13 books. What were they smoking?
The first installment in The Divergent Series, written by Veronica Roth, Divergent, did what most bad film adaptations fail to do— finish the series out. While the first film was met with poor reviews, and fans were generally upset with it, it somehow managed to get two sequels, both of which were met with equally bad reviews. The last film in the series has a rating of 11% on Rotten Tomatoes, which says just about everything you need to know.
Divergent failed to distinguish itself from all the other dystopian young-adult films and adaptations. While Harry Potter and The Hunger Games had their faults, they still felt like fully fleshed-out worlds of their own. When you fail to create that atmosphere, no one is going to want to sit through three 2.5-hour films.
Percy Jackson & The Olympians (2010, 2013)
These books are singlehandedly responsible for millions of children’s obsessions with Greek mythology. Percy Jackson & The Olympians is a five-part book series created by Rick Riordan, the first of which was adapted into a movie back in 2010 but was met with poor reviews from the millions of fans of the series. The second book, A Sea of Monsters, was released in 2013 and was met with more bad reviews and critiques.
The Lightning Thief and A Sea of Monsters both followed the path all other book-to-movie adaptations make— they diverged from the original story that made the books so good. The movie felt rushed and nonsensical, and the lines were atrocious at times. A third movie was planned but never made, thankfully. Like Eragon, this series is getting a Disney+ reboot and is actually set to premiere in 2024. Each season will cover one book, so hopefully, the directors don’t feel rushed and cut out major parts of the story this time.
The Dark Tower (2017)
Book-to-movie adaptations of Stephen King novels are notorious for either being really good or downright awful. You can guess which category The Dark Tower falls into. Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey tried their best to bring this film to life but were fighting a losing battle from the start.
The film was wildly incomprehensible for viewers that weren’t familiar with the books, and fans were rightfully upset that it was as unfaithful to the books as Kevin Hart and his wives. The Dark Tower is a nine-book series with extremely dense plots, vivid descriptions, and deep mythos. When you find out that the film adaptation will be just 95 minutes long, you begin to seriously wonder if this film just happens to have a similar name and is completely unrelated. For fans that waited years for a film, sadly, it wasn’t.
Battlefield Earth (2000)
If you read our worst movies list or just enjoy torturing yourself, you may already be familiar with this movie. Battlefield Earth is an adaptation of the book Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000, written by L. Ron Hubbard. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because that’s the guy that created Scientology. Yeah, that guy. The book itself was met with mixed reviews, with some calling it his best work and a decent sci-fi novel and others saying to avoid it at all costs.
Either way, no one was ready for this hot piece of garbage when it hit theaters in 2000. A horrible plot, bad acting, and the knowledge that you’re somehow supporting Scientology all make this film a horrible choice for a weekend viewing. Fans of the books, wherever they may be, were no doubt disappointed by Battlefield Earth.
Paper Towns (2015)
Paper Towns is a film adaptation of John Green’s novel of the same name. Most fans had gripes with the fact that the stakes in the film don’t feel as nearly as big as they are in the book. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, the TL;DR is that a girl runs away from home after some traumatic stuff, and this guy that’s in love with her tries to find her along with the help of a few other kids.
In the book, the protagonist finds out where his crush is, but he only has twenty-four hours to find her there before she leaves forever. He has to miss his high school graduation but decides that it is worth it to see her and confess his love. In the movie, she isn’t leaving, so there’s no real problem if he’s late. He also doesn’t miss his graduation but instead has two days to find her and get back for prom. It’s not the worst film, but it does miss a good deal of tension the book lays out.
Artemis Fowl (2020)
It was a crime to see an absolutely great child science-fiction series with smart dialogue and worldbuilding transformed into this abomination. In the book, Artemis Fowl is the smartest human in existence. His genius knows no bounds. In the movie, he gets by on sheer dumb luck. The best example is that his father once said he saw a faerie near a tree, so he tells his butler to go wait around that tree until he sees a faerie. That’s your genius plan for capturing an otherworldly creature?
There’s also the fact that the magic the faeries and other creatures have isn’t really magic at all but just seems to be some form of advanced technology. While there was a good deal of faerie technology in the books, the movie seems to rely solely on their technological prowess. It makes no attempt to expand upon the magic in this world, despite telling you within the first few minutes that you’re about to enter a world of magic. 1/10.
While you would think that directors, producers, and showrunners would learn from the mistakes of their colleagues, it seems that Hollywood is hell-bent on pushing out crappy book-to-movie adaptations year after year. While some of these films did go on to see some minor success, overall, they were unable to woo fans and left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. The moral of the story is, the next time you hear that a big studio is taking your beloved book to the big screen, cross your fingers and don’t expect much.